Public broadcasting chief jailed on criminal defamation charges

New York, May 22, 2001 — The head of Mali’s public broadcasting service is serving 30 days in jail on a criminal defamation charge brought by the local union of judges.

On May 16, 2001, a court in Segou, some 80 miles north of the capital, Bamako, convicted Sidiki Konaté, head of the Office of Radio and Television in Mali (ORTM), of criminal defamation.

The Autonomous Union of the Magistracy filed charges against both ORTM and the mayor of Bamako, Ibrahima N’Diaye, after a March 26 television feature in which the mayor accused Malian magistrates of being corrupt and inefficient.

Sidiki, who appeared in court in his capacity as head of ORTM, was also sentenced to pay a fine of US$1,350. The mayor received a 30-day jail sentence and a US$4,000 fine.

Malian press and human rights organizations have condemned the court decision.

“CPJ believes that no journalist should ever be jailed for doing his or her job,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “Sidiki Konaté should be released, and the unjust law under which he was jailed should be repealed forthwith.”

CPJ is deeply concerned about the continued deterioration of press conditions in Mali, a country where journalists have in the past been relatively free from state harassment.

On August 30, 2000, for example, Chahana Takiou of the private biweekly newspaper L’Indépendent was assaulted by Mamadou Gassama Diaby, a member of Parliament from the ruling Democratic Alliance of Mali (ADEMA). Diaby punched and kicked Takiou several times before seizing him by the neck and attempting to throttle him inside the National Assembly building in Bamako. Fortunately, several people present at the scene, including other parliamentary delegates, intervened and rescued the journalist, who had almost lost consciousness. According to CPJ sources, the assault may have resulted from an article on corruption within ADEMA that Takiou had published in his paper weeks earlier.

Titled “Scandal at the National Assembly,” Takiou’s article also complained of a sharp increase in cases of threats against journalists by Malian politicians.